Milestone CH_AECO02 and Miss Wilmott’s Garden at Warley Place, Essex

This stretch of road was turnpiked by the Wilmslow to Church Lawton Trust in 1781.

Cheshire County Council replaced almost all its old milestones with new cast iron mileposts in the 1890s, making the old milestones available for recycling by entrepreneurs like James Backhouse of York, who supplied Ellen Willmott with stone for her grand landscaping project at Warley Place in Essex, including creating a gorge and a rockery.

Ellen Ann Willmott

The Willmott family, Frederick Willmott, his wife Ellen and his two daughters Ellen Ann and Rose, moved to Warley Place in 1875. The three women were all keen gardeners, but it was Ellen Ann who really transformed the grounds into one of the most celebrated gardens in the country. Her father died in 1892 and her mother in 1898, her sister Rose having married into the Berkeley family in 1891 moved to Spetchley Park, near Worcester, in 1897.

As well as developing the gardens in general, in 1882 daughter Ellen, at 24 years of age, started on her new alpine garden. It was a major undertaking, involving building a ravine with a stream running along it and a special cave for her filmy ferns. The ravine and the massive rocks exist to this day, but sadly there is no sign of the original plants.

In 1894 Ellen acquired the services of a gardener from Switzerland to oversee the alpine garden. Jacob Maurer proved to be brilliant at his job and a real gentleman; he stayed there until she died forty years later. The cottage in which he lived, with his wife and nine children, was South Lodge which still stands by the entrance to Warley Place.

Ellen Willmott soon made a name for herself in horticulture and helped to finance expeditions to acquire new plants. Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria visited her, and her garden became famous throughout Britain and beyond. She was one of two women awarded the RHS Medal of Honour in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, 1897; the other was Gertrude Jekyll.

Ellen spent all her money on the garden, her musical and other interests and died, almost penniless, in 1934. Many of the rarer plants were removed to Spetchley Park to be cared for by the Berkeley family. The garden was abandoned on her death, reverted to wilderness and became a nature reserve in the 1970s.

During clearance of the undergrowth a number of milestones have come to light, reused face down, to form steps down into or around the ponds. These all appear to be from Cheshire, in two basic styles, either stones with a metal plate attached giving the distance to Chester, or longer stones with incised inscriptions which are very weathered.

One of the more legible inscriptions reads ‘To Wilmslow 4 Miles Manchester 16’ which would fit a milestone located on the modern A34 near Alderley Edge, where the 1896 cast iron milepost now stands at grid reference SJ841749, Milestone Society ID CH_AECO02, Geograph ID 5362115. The other three stones making up the steps to the east of the boating lake are all similar in size and shape and may have come from the same road.


Information supplied by John V Nicholls, Michael Leach, Mike Faherty and Ian Thompson, and extracted from Wikipedia, collated by Jan Scrine November 2020.

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